With a grant likely to come through soon from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Morgan County R-II School District is beginning a planning process for the proposed storm shelter at the main campus in Versailles.
The board of education applied for the Safe Shelter grant more than a year ago following deadly storms that have battered the U.S. in recent years. Staff recently received notification from FEMA that a large project had dropped out of contention which could allow for several smaller projects, including the Versailles school application, to move forward sooner than anticipated.
The district could see its application approved by the end of the year, according to Superintendent Dr. Joyce Ryerson.
The grant application sought $2 million toward the construction of a facility that could withstand an F-4 tornado and would be capable of holding everyone at the main campus.
The building would have to meet exact specifications from FEMA from the thickness of the concrete to certain types of blast doors that can withstand 200 mile per hour winds. The facility also has to have its own separate restroom facilities.
With an approximate population of 1,670 including full staff and a student total of around 1,450, the building would be up to 15,000 square feet with restrooms.
The board is now looking at ways to mesh this project with one of the buildings in its facility plan.
"The purpose is to try to find something in our facility plan that we wanted to work toward anyway so that we're not just building something that has no other use," Ryerson says.
The grant can pay up to 75 percent of the cost of a shelter — which would essentially be a big empty box. The board's application and its eligibility for $2 million was based on the campus' population and subsequent required square footage.
With the district looking to make the building multi-purpose, the district would have to pay for extras inside the structure and the grant would not quite pay 75 percent of the cost, Ryerson said.
Items in the district's facility plan that could coincide with the shelter include a fine arts building and auditorium or a new elementary gymnasium, according to Ryerson.
The auditorium has been in the district's facility plan for 10 years. It would be a better place to hold plays and other events which are now usually held at the middle school gym.
There are problems with that — such as bad acoustics, says Ryerson, but with lack of funding, the district makes due.
When the district priced an auditorium for a 2009 bond issue that failed, the cost was around $5 million and would now more likely be closer to $6 million.
Page 2 of 3 - Another option, according to Ryerson, would be to make the shelter a new gym for the middle school and then convert the existing middle school gym into an auditorium.
A new elementary gym is also on the facility plan. It is not a full size gym and has no room for seating.
A new gym could cost roughly $3 million.
The shelter has to be located where the entire campus can reach it in less than five minutes.
One location being considered, says Ryerson, is directly behind the middle school where buses currently load. The school would then have to reconfigure where buses are loaded.
The other potential site is to the front and side of the high school office out in the parking lot. That would result in losing some parking which the board would also have to address at some point.
The district's building and grounds committee is being called for a meeting sometime in October to go over the plans and all of these options. It will also likely revisit a community survey the board had done about a year ago in which it asked patrons to prioritize needs of the school.
The district did not get a lot of response from the survey, so the committee will consider whether to try again this fall, says Ryerson.
That feedback would then be used in the decision-making process on potential funding options for the district's match to the grant.
Staff will also be working this fall on getting a firmer estimate on the construction cost.
The board would have to make a decision on how much and what type of local funding to pursue by mid-January in order to get the issue on the April 2014 ballot.
Funding options could include a bond issue that would sunset after a certain number of years or a small tax levy increase that would give the district more financial flexibility after the shelter is paid off.
The district's levy is currently at $2.75 per $100 of assessed valuation - the maximum allowed by the state without a vote of the people to set it higher.
The district has seen revenues decline in recent years while expenses continue to increase.
Other safety issues
Along the line of safety and security, MCR2 staff participated in active shooter training on Aug. 30.
With more mass shootings in the news, strategy for dealing with these situations is evolving.
The strategy for dealing with an active shooter incident is shifting from the traditional "lock down" to evacuation. The primary focus is to get away from where the shooting is happening.
Page 3 of 3 - "You used to be told to lock the doors and kind of hunker down and stay in place. Now they're saying if you can, get out," she says.
It used to also be emphasized that teachers should buzz the office in case of such an incident. Now, there is a greater emphasis on simply getting on their cell phones and calling 911. Then if they can get to the intercom, great but it's not a priority, according to Ryerson.
Staff also learned techniques for barricading rooms as well as defensive tactics for situations when evacuation is not possible.
Teachers will be discussing some of these changes with high school students during a forum on the topic Sept. 27 prior to the school's Homecoming activities.
"It's going to be, here's what we want you to do. With some things changing procedurally, we thought it would be good to discuss it with some of the older students who can handle mature topics," Ryerson said.
The school will be going over storm and fire procedures Friday morning as well.